greenspun.com : LUSENET : Utopia : One Thread

Thanks to Ian for the message board. May our discussions continue forever. Here's my thought: in my utopia, my character briefly wonders if, in a perfect society, all movies would be conflict free. I would honestly find that horribly boring...but my point is this: what place should entertainment/arts (music, movies, theater, books)have in a Utopia? For instance, one could cite the unconscious influence such things have on us and say that there shouldn't be anything that is against the ideals of the utopia. (i.e. a society that values human life and equality of the sexes wouldn't have James Bond flicks.) In this case, arts/entertainment would serve the purpose of conditioning. Or should the arts/entertainment include stuff that don't jive with the society? (i.e. Would a family-values based society show movies with masturbating pedophiles like in Happiness or American Beauty?) Maybe the arts/entertainment would then serve the purpose of enhancing empathy with people we don't understand. What's the point of all this music, movies, books, etc?

PS. The thing that made me think about this is the fact that, although I would certainly love a society in which people weren't insecure and depressed, most of my favorite songs are about insecurity and depression. ("Runaway Train" - Soul Asylum; "Jumper" - Third Eye Blind; "Adam's Song" - Blink 182) I'm trying to decide if my ideal society would include such songs. Maybe they teach us something about ourselves.

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2000


Thanks, Ben, for continuing the discussion!

There's an old question of whether art is a product of society or society is a product of art. It seems fairly clear that both are true; they influence one another and do not have separate existences. So a very happy society would likely be dominated by happy art. If there is no suicide, people won't really understand the pain surrounding it, and so suicide-themed art may be briefly disturbing, but I doubt it would make a lasting impact.

Try to imagine viewing American Beauty after having grown up in Agape. Those situations wouldn't seem "real" or "possible" to you, because you've never heard of people acting like that. It would be surreal and weird and troubling, but also easily dismissed. I think the power of a lot of things you mentioned comes from the fact that we know they're grounded in reality.

What is happy art, though? A lot of great artists have felt that great art comes from pain, misery, distress, etc. Is happy art just fluff, or can it be equally profound, without being negative?

On the other hand, I think most of us would agree that a perfect earthly society is impossible--all utopias will be an approximation of perfection. Humans will still have flaws, and so there is still a place for "dark" art.

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2000

I agree with Ian about art being largely a product of the society so that a society like Agape would not tend to produce violent art. However, I have a couple things to add . . . first, I don't think that every value that is shown in a movie necessarily corresponds to a value in our society. In Ben's James Bond example, I would say that our society overall values human life, despite a film that doesn't. And though I know that there are all the arguments that violence in films and TV causes some people to value human life less and therefore contributes to violent crime, it's only one factor . . . in a society where people care about each other and hopefully are generally happier with their lives and their society, I would think that people have the capacity to reject the violence of movies even more than we do here, which we are obviously still pretty good at since all of us have seen violent movies and none of us (I hope) have been out murdering people. Plus, my tendency is to think that movies are more likely to have a widespread impact if they reinforce existing negative values (in our society, such as gender stereotypes of men as being those with the power) than by counteracting existing positive values (a value on life). If we could make a society with a general tendency towards gender equality, and towards valuing other people as individuals, and towards being empathetic, and all those other good things we want, then I think at least most people would recognize the problems with the way things are in movies they see, just as most of us do with some aspects of movies in our very imperfect society. Second, Ian's right that there's no way we would actually eliminate all that is bad out of our society, and if we buy that suffering is at least on some level necessary to development as a person or appreciation of joy, then we could argue whether we would even want to eliminate suffering altogether. So it seems that people are still going to have love problems and self-doubt and all those other great issues that make for our great depressing art. Which I guess is worth it??

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2000

Let me recommend that all of you see the movie Powder...because it is about perspective. The problem with the entertainment business today is that it gives people through its media a false sense of perspective more often than it does a true one. For example, how mnay countless movie about violence are there? while i agree that the majority of people who see violent movies do not go commit the same violent crimes they see, what about those people who do find a certain connection with what they watch on TV. The most striking recent example i can think of is how the people who killed students in columbine high school wore trenchcoats and supposedly made "cool" by the movie "the matrix." media is extremely powerful in shaping people lives...how about those countless romantic movies that leave all single people just fanstasizing about their future lover? come on, i know everyone knows about this...you watch "one fine day," "you've got mail," etc. and you leave the movie just dreaming of how your perfect relationship will be. i think this type of fantasy isn't necessarily bad because it may cause one to set their standards really high..but the point is that the power of the entertainment industry to shape lives is tremendous. it is hard to see where the industry can be reshaped to provide a sense of education or instill moral values to society, while still maintaining a diversity of interesting films. back to powder--this movie really changes your perspective on killing animals. when you watch this movie, just notice how powerful a movie can be on the emotions. another example is "the green mile." i walked out of the movie vowing i would never support the death penalty! in a way, we become what see on the movie screen because we idolize the "glorious" life so often depicted and we want to escape to that glorious life and not have to deal with the real problems in life. fame, power, money, love all drive us to want lifestyles that may not be realistic. in closing, while i think that media can be very dangerous in promoting the wrong things, the diversity of imagination it creates may outweigh the costs in the long run.

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2000

Funny that you conclude with that, Chris, considering most of your post is about the bad effect the media can have on us. (By the way, I think there is a danger even in the romantic comedy fantasy. My fantasies about a "perfect" relationship were among the many things that screwed up my relationship with my first and only girlfriend.)

So, here's an idea to tack on, in addition to my origional question about the place of arts/entertainment: must we choose between a diversity of ideas and the correct moral instruction (whatever you believe are the morals vital to your utopia)? If so, which should we choose?

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2000

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